Craig Levein insists Hearts have no plans to cash in on burgeoning centre-back John Souttar this summer.
The 23-year-old defender recently signed a contract extension tying him to the club until 2022, but speculation has already begun about his future, with reports over the weekend crediting Rangers with a strong interest in taking him to Ibrox. Levein laughed off this link in his post-match media briefing following Saturday’s Scottish Cup semi-final victory over Inverness Caledonian Thistle, with the manager placing it in the same bracket as the unfounded rumour that he is planning to retire to Spain this summer.
Some supporters are concerned, however, that the recently-announced pre-contract signing of Livingston defender Craig Halkett is a sign that Hearts are preparing for the possible exit of their prized asset. Levein refuted this suggestion.
“We will lose Conor Shaughnessy, who is going back to Leeds, in the summer so obviously we needed another centre-back,” the manager told the Evening News. “Craig Halkett has not been signed in any way as a replacement for John Souttar. I hope John’s still with us for another couple of years. There’s nothing really to say about John other than we’re in a good position and John’s in a good position. He’s happy where he is, playing good football and improving all the time, and that was the reason he extended his contract. He feels there’s a little bit to go here, and so do I.”
Levein knows that Souttar’s impressive form over the past couple of seasons, which has taken him into the Scotland squad, has elevated him to a level where he is desirable to other clubs. While he refused to rule out the possibility that the former Dundee United player would be sold if a suitable offer was received, he is content that, given the fact he has more than years to run on his contract, Hearts have full control of the situation.
“We’ve got all bases covered with John,” said Levein. “He recently signed a three-and-a-half-year deal so it puts us in a strong position if there is anybody who is interested in trying to sign him. We’re in a good place in that regard. Whatever happens, we’ll just have to deal with it if anything comes along. The hard work’s been done and we’ve protected ourselves if he does leave but I don’t think that will happen this summer. This is football though – things happen when you least expect it.”